What a pair
Two recipes to fall in love with
Valentine’s Day is so often shunned, but I do think there is something in it: it’s a day to celebrate love – though not necessarily romantic love. On 14 February, I’ve cooked for friends, my sister, my parents and, some years, very happily just for myself.
This is what I’ll cook at home on Valentine’s Day this year, with little ceremony but lots of flavour – the very opposite of a restaurant teeming with couples who order from a love-themed set menu.
First: no-fuss spaghetti with fennel and squash polpette. This can be eaten straight from a big plate with a couple of forks, Lady and the Tramp style. I’ll follow with easy chocolate pots, sweetened with medjool dates and spiked with flaky sea salt – sweet enough without being sugary.
Spaghetti and squash polpette
Once rolled, the polpette freeze well, and can be slowly fried from frozen in a pan with some olive oil. Here, I bake them for ease and to make their load a little lighter.
Serves 4 (or makes 2 meals for 2)
For the polpette
Olive oil 1 ½ smallred onion, fennel peeledbulb, finelyand thinly chopped sliced 1 garlic clove, crushed 100g butternut squash, peeled and grated 150g cooked puy lentils (about ½ a tin) 50g breadcrumbs (I use wholemeal) 100g ricotta cheese Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon 25g pecorino or parmesan cheese, finely grated 1 red chilli, chopped, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes A few sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
For the pistachio pesto
A small handful of pistachio nuts (about 25g) A small bunch of basil, leaves picked 4 tbsp olive oil Juice of ½ a lemon A handful of grated pecorino cheese (optional) Salt and black pepper 1 Put a pan over a medium heat, add a little olive oil, then the fennel and onion. Fry for 10 minutes until soft and sweet, then add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
2 Put the fried vegetables into a bowl and add the grated squash with the other polpette ingredients and mix well. Season generously and leave to sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7.
3 Divide the mixture into 12 and roll into little balls. Place them on a baking tray and drizzle well with olive oil – or, if you want to be precise, brush them all over for a perfectly crispy outside. Bake them for 20 minutes, until they have a golden crust. You can also fry them in a little olive oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.
4 While the polpette are baking, pop all the pesto ingredients into a food processor. Add 2 tbsp of water and blitz to a chunky paste. If you prefer a little more oil in your pesto, add some more here, but I like the freshness of it the way it is. Taste and adjust the amount of lemon, cheese and seasoning if you need to.
5 When the polpette have had 10 minutes in the oven, fill a large saucepan with boiling water, add salt and, once at a rolling boil, add the spaghetti and cook according to the instructions – usually about 8 minutes.
6 Drain the spaghetti, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the pesto and mix it in well, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen if needed. Put the spaghetti on to a big platter then top with the polpette and a bit more cheese and some basil leaves.
Chocolate pots with salted date caramel
I have made enough for 4 small but luxurious pots here – any less is hard to manage in the blender. The remaining 2 pots will keep for a few days in the fridge. If you like, for an additional back note, you could add a pinch of chilli or cinnamon – though I prefer unadulterated chocolate.
Makes 4 small pots, or 2 large ones
400ml tin coconut milk 100g dark chocolate 2 tbsp icing sugar or set honey
For the caramel
10 medjool dates (about 150g) ½ tbsp maple syrup A good pinch of flaky salt
1 First, chill the tin of coconut milk in the fridge. This will help the cream and water separate, so you can easily scoop off the cream.
2 Break the chocolate into a small heatproof bowl. Half fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Take the saucepan off the heat, then put the bowl of chocolate over it, making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Leave the chocolate to melt over the steam and stir it occasionally if need be.
3 Make the caramel by blitzing the dates with the maple syrup and salt in a blender until you have a thick, smooth paste. You may need to use a wooden spoon or spatula to push the dates down from time to time to help it blend nicely.
4 Remove the tin of coconut milk from the fridge, open it without shaking it and spoon the thick cream off the top into a mixing bowl. You will need about 180g of cream. (The leftover coconut water can be kept in the fridge or freezer for making into a curry or smoothie.)
5 Whip the coconut cream with an electric hand whisk or stand mixer until it’s lump-free and beginning to thicken. Add the sugar or honey and whisk again.
6 Once the chocolate has melted, allow it to cool then fold it into the coconut mixture.
7 Spoon the date caramel into the bottom of your pots then pour over the chocolate mixture. Top with a little shaved chocolate. They will be ready to eat right away but will also keep for a few days in the fridge.
Anna Jones is a chef, writer and author of A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook (Fourth Estate); annajones.co.uk; @we_are_food
▲ Cook’s tip If you don’t have soft medjool dates, just use dried ones soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes